Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bugging out - Joanópolis and São Paulo

Now you're going to have to look close at this photo. See there in the middle is a grasshopper with yellow-striped legs and a red head? I could not get a good shot--the dog scared the critter away before I could try again. This bug was found by one of my kids on a hike around the ranch last weekend--one of my six-year old twins just has an amazing talent for finding these insects and animals in the grass.

Those of you who have known me from childhood will know that I was never a big fan of bugs. Those little fuzzy wuzzy caterpillars were pretty much the only ones I would handle...or a ladybug or two. I was a spider-squisher, no questions asked. I have Brazil to thank for my new interest in insects and arthropods--it is such a fascinating world in the undergrowth. Oh, that's right--I have to thank a Brit as well--David Attenborough's BBC series on Life in the Undergrowth is mesmerizing.

My favorite museum in all of Brazil is the Instituto Butantan. It is the "spider, scorpion and snake" museum (according to my kids) but is also the place where 80% of the anti-venom and vaccinations are produced for Brazil. I will post another day on Butantan--perhaps many days, you may get tired of my love affair of creepy-crawlies. I have taken extension classes there on Venomous Beasts and Dangerous Insects. I can identify the poisonous baddies --in fact we met an "armadeira" spider (one of the two most dangerous in Brazil) a couple of weeks ago at the fazenda. These are fighter spiders and very aggressive--he/she put her front legs up as if it was ready to box. Armadeiras are squished: apologies to the biologists out there.

What I've learned in my coursework is that some of the prettiest bugs are the most dangerous. This gorgeous one below is a killer to trees. It will eat every single last leaf--they are also huge. This one is bigger than a Chicago style Polish sausage.

You definitely don't want to touch any fuzzy caterpillar here. While I used to play with those brown and black wooly bear caterpillars in the US, the fuzzy ones here are likely to sting you. Once I accidentally grabbed one attached to the dog bed and my hand was numb for days. It is a rare case that causes death but if someone does fall into a nest of these fuzzy ones, they can kill you. It seems a cruelty to have to explain to their loved ones that someone has died by caterpillar sting.

The richness of insect and animal life in Brazil should not be missed. I am so proud of having kids who run towards bugs rather than away from them. At a friend's house last year for a kid's birthday party, a giant herd of kids ran toward the adults yelling "there's a cockroach in the shower." My kids, who were currently raiding the buffet table, perked up and ran towards the bathroom yelling "where? where? can I get it?"

My work here is done.


  1. My son would get along very well with your boys and would be in heaven with all of those critters. Plus, I think your boys would enjoy meeting Ryan's pet snake :)

  2. They would love to meet the snake! Some day we need to get them together!